A Stay in San Martin

Time has a way of slipping by quickly during my stopover in San Martin de los Andes. I arrived over a month ago, and shockingly, I’m still here. After a brief, and frozen, stay in my van outside of a hostel, I decided to check out a WorkAway where a bed was offered in exchange for converting a mountain cabin into a hostel. I walked up to the cabin to check the road for Savannah and met with Roberto. At 65 years old, with his 5 kids moved out, he now had a big cabin with lots of rooms that he wanted to offer to travelers. The cabin was warm, Roberto was kind, and the weather was still very much winter; Savannah and I made our way up the bumpy gravel road and heaved up and onto the driveway platform where she is still parked now. I have my own room in the loft, and Savannah is safely tucked in away from the town. Roberto designed and built the cabin himself, which is incredibly impressive. Moss grows on the roof and it really feels like a little fairy house in the forest.

After I parked, I was trying to explain that I needed to tarp Sav because I had just sealed some gaps between the windshield and frame of the van with silicone (I think water entering the air filter as well as dripping onto the computer are the reasons that she’s having some random issues). I was getting frustrated trying to find the words in Spanish, and I knew he spoke English as well, so I switched and tried to continue explaining in English. Apparently, I was speaking too quickly because then he got frustrated and shouted at me, “Speak in Spanish, damnit!” I was so surprised by this outburst, that I myself bursted out laughing. We made an agreement then that I would only speak Spanish, and he would only speak English while I was around.

My tasks began with organizing and cleaning the spare rooms to make ready for guests. Then over the course of these past weeks, these tasks expanded to preparing dinners about once every 3 nights for him, myself, and his son who is visiting. Then, it included yard work like preparing garden sheds (and doing lots of math for calculating how much plastic we need for a greenhouse), unearthing boats from before the pandemic (he’s a rafting guide), doing laundry, cleaning the house, etc. At times, I feel a bit like Cinderella and at other times like another son sent out to do the dirty work in the yard. I don’t mind it, though sometimes it’s a full day since I have my real job as well that I’m working remotely (currently setting up the next lab in Lima).

The Kelly kitchen has so far included chili (made with lentils instead of beans since they’re not really here), pizza, stir fry, and pasta.

A typical day starts with mate, a loose leaf tea high in caffeine and very much a daily ritual here in San Martin. Toasted bread, with maybe some cheese or avocado, and an orange is for breakfast. I clean the house, work my real job, then do a project outside. Around 5 or 6 in the evening, I head out for a hike, call a friend or home when I end my hike at the lake, then head back to the cabin at dusk usually stopping at the feria (fruit/veg store) for some fresh (and cheap!) produce for a dinner or lunch. We eat dinner around 10 PM, which still feels very late even after a month, then I’ll either unwind with a Netflix movie or some rounds of Solitaire and music. Sometimes odd jobs come up, like helping push his van into the mechanic shop or going on a grocery run for him, but overall, it’s quite predictable. Perhaps this daily routine is how time has passed so quickly.

I take a hike every day, rain or shine. Sometimes, he joins me and wants to “train” with me, though I’m not really training for anything. We have a circuit to a beautiful “mirador” (lookout) over the lake that’s about 6 miles. It’s a loop that we alternate directions and has a mix of town, trail, and dirt road. He teaches me about the trees, how the glacial valley was formed, the flora and fauna, how the lichen “old man’s beard” can be an indicator of how clean the air is, and so much more. For him it’s practice for when he’s guiding in the summer, and for me it’s knowledge of a new place and learning new species and words in Spanish. He joins me about 1/3 of my hikes around and has told me many times that I do not need to go hike every day and that it’s okay to rest. I usually smile and shrug at this and head out anyway. Most hikes I end with a nearby lookout, this one over the town. I like to perch up there, away from the town, and watch the sky change as the town lights up below. My fashion lately has involved bringing back the buff.

One hike with Roberto, we went particularly far (perhaps 10 or 11 miles). It was to a beautiful hidden beach in an alcove and looked like a perfect place to fly fish. We brought mate, oranges, and fresh baked bread for a snack while we watched the sunset. We treated our feet to some freezing water along the shore before making the trek back. We ended up finishing the trek in the dark, so maybe bit off a bit more than we could chew for an evening as Roberto was limping back, but it was really beautiful, and I think he was happy to join.

Lago Lacar, the lake where San Martin sits at the start of, offers boat tours to different areas of the lake. My first tour was a half day to Quila Quina, a tiny town about 5 miles from San Martin. Immediately off the boat, I made two dog friends who joined me on my hike to a beautiful cascade. They sat with me on the beach while I sipped at a mate and were the best company I could have asked for. I nearly brought the little blonde one home with me.

My second tour was around the entire lake. The boat passed an ancient volcano that got cut in half by glacier movement. This part of the lake is the deepest at 900 feet since it was the throat of the volcano. The basalt columns were incredible! The boat then stopped at Quila Quina, where I found horse friends instead of dog friends this time, then after to a cascade hike farther up the lake. Unfortunately, this was a guided group hike, and I was clipping the back of the heels of our tour guide as the pace felt much slower than when I’m solo… the waterfall was beautiful though. We went all the way to the end of the 28 km lake system, which is only a few kilometers from the border of Chile. This trip actually transected two distinct lakes, Lago Lacar and Lago Nonthue, which are connected by a thin neck of water. The Hua Hum river joins Lago Nonthue to Lago Pirihueico, and crosses the border into Chile. Roberto runs rafting trips down this river. It felt so crazy to be so close to Chile again! Finally, on the way back, the boat stopped at a little island where there was a church and some really cool trees. During the final leg of the tour, we all enjoyed the sunset off the back of the boat.

We celebrated Roberto’s birthday with an “asado” or bbq of multiple meats. I was not so much a fan of the blood sausage (gross), but ate it anyway, as well as the tasty steak and normal sausage. It was requested that I bake a cake. I’m better at cooking than baking but agreed to give it a shot. Upon further inspection in his kitchen, I found out there was not a cake pan or anything like that to be found, so I baked it in a pot (in the oven). Luckily, I found some cake mix at the local grocery store instead of having to bake it from scratch, but I was really skeptical that this cake in a pot would turn out. It did, and it was his first ever birthday cake, so that was cool. I also drew him a little card which he placed among drawings his kids had done for him, that was cool too.

At times, I prefer to be the one cooking, just so I know what I’m about to eat. The other night I was enjoying some chicken soup until I realized that what I thought was a drumstick/leg bone that I was gnawing on ended up being a chicken neck. I noticed after a pointy vertebrate stabbed my tongue. And I tried liver for the first time, which I can 100% say I am not a fan of. Though, after learning the word for liver, “higado,” I was able to share a funny story:

I used to go hunting with my dad behind our house in maybe my early teens. One season, he killed a deer and did the routine of leaving the gut pile in the forest and hauling back the corpse to harvest the meat. My Mom’s father wanted the liver, so my Dad and I went back that night to the gut pile to find it (same day, so probably fine?). We squatted around and poked at the gut pile and thought we found the liver (honestly it could have been a kidney). He started tugging on what we thought was the liver. Eventually whatever connective tissue holding the organ in place snapped. I was crouched right beside him holding the flashlight, and a bit too close it turned out since after being freed, this organ slapped the side of my face. Sure it was gross at the time, but this story would haunt me for years as he would always find the opportunity to tell it if I brought a boy home for dinner… I found all of the words in Spanish to tell this story and had both Roberto and Nara, his son, laughing.

When I first arrived, there was an additional member of the household: a cat named Pumba. I actually really liked this cat (I’m more of a dog person) and could tell Roberto enjoyed his company. Sadly, this cat has been missing for the last few days and I’m afraid a fox might have got him. Roberto still calls and meows for this cat to come back, I think he’s a goner though. There is also a very fat dog here since Roberto feeds it better than himself. Though at times, when there is meat out to thaw, I’m not sure if it’s meat for the dog or ourselves.

I’m beginning to get itchy feet and am ready to start to move again. I’ll probably cross back in to Chile soon, and potentially volunteer again for the horse ranch on the coast on Chile. Soon though, I will be in a whirlwind of travel for work again. Current plans involve a trip to Peru in October, Costa Rica in early November, Navarino Island in late November, and back to Peru in December. It’s feeling very much like the calm before the storm and I’m enjoying these last few slow days before the next series of movements.

Sleep spots, here 🙂

Song I’ve been digging, here! Making Me Nervous by Brad Sucks

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